When we counted down the Top Overseas Stars of the 1930s we placed Lithuanian heavyweight Karl Pojello at number two, second only to Jack Sherry.
The friendship Karl formed with Atholl Oakeley during Oakeley's 1931 American tour led to Pojello, by then an American citizen, arriving in Britain on 11th November, 1932. For the remainder of the decade he never seemed to be away, though he did return to the United States on occasions.
Pojello was, by all accounts, a class act, a man with a huge repertoire of holds who could move swiftly around the ring. His skill had been learnt as an amateur in St Petersburg, he had moved there from Lithuania when he was thirteen. In 1912 he was Russian Greco Roman champion and was a successful international wrestler by the age of twenty. Shortly afterwards he was conscripted to the engineers division of the Russian Army as the Great War took hold across Europe. After the war he continued to wrestle as an amateur and seems to have turned professional in 1920, or thereabouts. Wrestling took Karl to Siberia, Manchuria, Indo China and Japan. In 1923 he set sail from Japan for America, settling in Chicago and taking American citizenship. By January 1924 Pojello was wrestling in Chicago and travelled extensively across America during the 1920s,also serving for eighteen months as an athletic instructor in the U.S. Army. In February, 1928, that he defeated John Meyers to win the world light heavyweight championship.
Damning praise from the New York Sun in February, 1935, "Where Pojello is at fault is in lack of color, meaning he is no actor. He doesn't even sound good. He goes altogether too seriously about his job. His face does not register pain and the gamut of emotions dramatically, nor does he inject the correct sound effects. Worse still, he is too good in mat technic."
Oakely claims that it was whilst he was in America that Karl made plans to come to Europe and promote wrestling in France. Oakeley, who had returned to Britain and was making serious headway as a wrestling promoter persuaded his friend to come and work for him. Pojello's victory over Jack Pye at Nottingham in November, 1932, was reported as ".... an outstanding revelation of scientific wrestling." Karl utilised an extraordinary variety of holds and counters and was very agile for a man of his size, as demonstrated in his victories over each of top men including Bulldog Bill Garnon, George Clark. Padvo Peltonin and the Black Tiger by two falls to nil. In February, 1933 Karl beat Germany's Heinrich Froehner at Nottingham in the sixth round to win the European Heavyweight Championship. Froehner had taken the title from Oakeley some six weeks earlier.
Karl Pojello wrestled in Britain spasmodically between November, 1932, and August, 1939, our earliest and last recorded contests both being defeats of Jack Pye. Between times he was one of the finest wrestlers in Britain with victories over all the top stars including Bulldog Bill Garnon, George Clark. Padvo Peltonin and the Black Tiger by two falls to nil. In February, 1933 Karl beat Germany's Heinrich Froehner at Nottingham in the sixth round to win the European Heavyweight Championship. Froehner had taken the title from Oakeley some six weeks earlier.
Whilst Karl brought so much credibility to British wrestling we would be amiss were we to omit one shadow. On 20th May, 1938, the Daily Mirror devoted their front page to the news that mud wrestling had come to Britain. At the end of a regular wrestling bill Karl Pojello faced Manuel Garcia in a ring filled with clay that was covered with crude oil and sprinkled with soot. The audience were reported to have enjoyed the occasion, having paid 12s 6d (62 ½ p) for the privilege of being splattered with mud, unless they had paid an extra 9d for a paper cape. It was not Britain's finest moment.
With war on the horizon Karl returned to America in August, 1939, accompanied by his protege Maurice "The Angel" Tillet. Pojello continued wrestling until the mid 1940s and later concentrated on training and management. Karolis Pojela died of lung cancer on 4th September 4, 1954. Tillet had also been ill at that time, and maybe it was the shock of losing the man he considered his saviour that led to his own death from a heart attack only a few hours later.